We’ve got an allotment!

We’ve got an allotment!

About a year ago I applied for an allotment and just this week got the call to say there’s one available. Allotments are a very British thing. They have been around for hundreds of years, since Anglo-Saxon times, according to The National Allotment Society. In Victorian times they were handed over to poor people as a way for them to feed themselves. During the second world war they became an important food supply for the nation; “Dig for Victory” was the slogan at that time. Everyone was encouraged to grow vegetables and parks everywhere were converted into allotments for this purpose.

Most of us have enough food to eat today but allotments are still very popular and some people sit on waiting lists for years before they get one. I think it’s important for communities to grow their own food. It builds resistance for times of need and it will play an important role in mitigating the effects of climate change. Growing your own vegetables is also intensely satisfying and good fun.

The microplot they’ve offered me is in a sad state. Here’s a photo:


I don’t plan to dig up all that grass. I think I’ll try the no dig approach or lasagne gardening, as I think it is also known.

Ethics into Action

I’m reading this terrific book about the life of Henry Spira, a New Yorker who challenged large corporations over their abuse of animals, and he did so effectively, without money and with no large organisation behind him. The book is not so much a biography but a book about Henry’s strategy and why he was so successful. It’s a valuable guide for activists everywhere about how to create movements that are effective and proves that even individuals can make a difference.

Why was he so successful?

Henry chose specific targets for his campaigns and these he selected for their vulnerability and what Henry perceived would be the lack of public support for what those targets were doing. His first target was the American Museum of Natural History. They were conducting experiments on cats which involved mutilating the cats to observe changes in sexual behaviour. He chose this target for several reasons:

  1. The research was being funded with tax-payer money.
  2. People were more likely to object to experiments on cats because of our close relationship with them as companion animals.
  3. The research was obviously pointless.

His strategy was as follows:

  1. Research as much information about the organisation and experiments through the Freedom of Information Act and other sources.
  2. Contact the organisation to discuss the issue privately first – this was a prevailing strategy of Henry’s throughout his time as animal activist. The American Museum of Natural History ignored all his attempts to communicate with them.
  3. If step two fails launch a campaign to raise public awareness of the issue through weekly demonstrations outside the museum, articles in newspapers, and letters to politicians as well as to the museum’s own donors.

Mutilating cats to observe changes in their sexual behaviour sounds like an outrageous way to spend tax-payer money but we have to remember that this was back in 1970 and at a time when no-one questioned the torturing of rabbits for beauty’s sake. It took several years of campaigning before the American Museum of Natural History ended the experiments. It sounds like a very long time to end what had no obvious justification but Henry was able to achieve in a few years what anti-vivisectionists had failed to do in more than a century of campaigning, such was the attitude towards animals in labs at the time.

The book goes on to describe many other examples of Henry’s successful campaigns, one of which was his campaign against Revlon for their blinding of rabbits for cosmetic testing. There are several lessons we can learn from Henry.

He chose specific targets and he was persistent. Initially his targets were all dismissive of Henry and they wrongly assumed the publicity would die down and fade away. But Henry did not give up. He was relentless until eventually the public pressure was so great they could not ignore him.

He reached out to his targets to create a conversation with them and in some cases worked with them to find a solution. This is what ultimately happened with Revlon. When they realised they couldn’t dismiss him they worked with him to find a solution and he had University contacts who were working on alternatives to the Draize experiment ready to give them. He knew he couldn’t demand that Revlon stop the testing overnight since at the time there was no other test available and even if they did stop all the other companies would still be doing it which wouldn’t help those rabbits in the long-term. Instead he found a workable solution which was that Revlon gave Rockefellar University $750,000 over three years to develop an alternative test. After this he moved onto Avon and from there to Bristol-Myers and so on until everyone was working together to find a solution. This is what he was good at: getting people from opposing sides to work together towards a shared goal.

Henry Spira died in 1998. There’s a nice article in the New York Times about him where he is described as the architect of the American animal rights movement’s first successful campaigns. The first part of his life was spent campaigning for the civil rights movement and the second half for animal rights. The two are closely linked for if you accept the principle of equality – which says we cannot give greater consideration to the interests of a being on the basis of their sex or race, then we cannot give greater consideration to a being on their basis of their species as this would be inconsistent and is known as speciesism. Henry Spira was influenced by Peter Singer. He explains, (p50 Ethics into Action)

Singer made an enormous impression on me because his concern for other animals was rational and defensible in public debate. It did not depend on sentimentality, on the cuteness of the animals in question or their popularity as pets. To me he was saying simply that it is wrong to harm others, and as a matter of consistency we don’t limit who the others are; if they can tell the difference between pain and pleasure, then they have the fundamental right not to be harmed.

Pedal on Parliament 2017 Aberdeen

Pedal on Parliament 2017 Aberdeen

We gathered on the Beach Esplanade at 11am this morning for the Aberdeen Pedal on Parliament ride. This is the third year running for Aberdeen and the sixth year for Pedal on Parliament in Scotland. We were an energetic, cheerful, and brave crowd hoping to convince the Aberdeen City Council to give some road space to cyclists in Aberdeen. It was nice to meet some kindred spirits and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I think there were around 80 of us which is a bit pathetic. Come on Aberdeen! You can do better than this! Judging by the Tweets I’ve seen the crowd in Edinburgh looked more impressive.

Before the ride:


We cycled along the beach to Castlegate in the city centre.


There were three cargo bikes. Those two fellows both have an Urban Arrow which is what I wished I’d bought instead of the Butchers and Bicycles. I’ve sold that bike now for a huge loss.


Here’s the Aberdeen group, a great bunch of people:

The leader of the Aberdeen City Council, Jenny Laing, was there at Castlegate to greet us at the end. I had a satisfying rant to her about the lack of cycling infrastructure in Aberdeen and what’s needed; she listened and seemed to agree with everything I said. But this is typical of the city council: they listen and agree then do nothing.

Pedal on Parliament this year coincided with the marches for science, a worldwide initiative to support science and evidence-based policy making, both of which I fully support. There wasn’t a march in Aberdeen but I believe the Edinburgh march did not clash with Pedal on Parliament as they are at different times and I’m sure there were people going to both events since they have some shared goals. If government policy was evidence-based we’d have cycling infrastructure in Aberdeen.

Pedal on Parliament 2017

On the 22nd April mums, dads, sons, daughters, grandparents, cousins, aunts, uncles, sisters, brothers, and friends will be cycling in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and Inverness (Glasgow on the 23rd April) to urge our politicians to improve cycling infrastructure all over Scotland. That’s this coming Saturday! Tomorrow! We need as many people as possible to have the greatest impact so please join us.

The benefits of ditching the car in favour of the bike are so far-reaching we cannot let our politicians ignore them. A study published in the British Medical Journal yesterday found,

Cycle commuters had a 52% lower risk of dying from heart disease and a 40% lower risk of dying from cancer. They also had 46% lower risk of developing heart disease and a 45% lower risk of developing cancer at all.

Source: https://theconversation.com/cycling-to-work-major-new-study-suggests-health-benefits-are-staggering-76292

Cycling also makes you feel good, it reduces pollution and traffic congestion, it reduces our greenhouse gas emissions, it helps people to lose weight, and it’s fun. However very few people cycle to work, school, or the shops in Scotland because there’s nowhere to cycle unless they are prepared to brave the roads alongside cars, trucks and buses. We have to start allocating road space for cyclists and make our cities more pedestrian- and cycle-friendly. The only way this will happen is with pressure on politicians from us, the general public.

Spending money on cycling infrastructure returns more in benefits to the community than it costs to build. A study commissioned by the city of Sydney found that for each $1 that was spent on cycling infrastructure, $3.88 was returned to the community through improvements to health, pollution, and congestion.

A University of Auckland study found the benefits of spending on cycling infrastructure were 10-25 times greater than the costs.

A recent Finnish study also found benefits outweighed costs even in the worst case scenario.

If you want to participate you can find out when everyone is meeting and where at the following links:

Pedal on Parliament 
POP Edinburgh 
POP Glasgow 
POP Aberdeen
POP Inverness 

No-sulphur organic red wine

No-sulphur organic red wine

I bought a mixed case of no sulphur organic wines from Vintage Roots and they arrived today so I’m trying the first bottle which is a French red called Mas des Tannes. The grapes were organically grown in the south of France.


It’s delicious! I love the smell of red wine. I think I would be happy just to sniff the bottle and not drink any but it’s nice to get to taste some too, especially when it’s good. Don’t believe it when people say they have to add sulphur otherwise it turns to vinegar. This is not vinegar.

Mystery person

Mystery person

At Madrid airport the other day I was waiting at a shop for them to heat up my lunch (which turned out to be disgusting but more on that later) and I thought I saw someone famous. Who is this dude with the curly locks? Should I know who he is? He looks familiar.


A close-up.


Madrid airport was dreadful. Just after going through security I was greeted by this:


I found a shop which claimed to sell vegan food so I wandered in feeling hopeful. It was called Esenza.


I bought a vegan pasty which looked unappetising – dry and tasteless – but I decided to give it a try. It was just as disgusting as it looked and I threw most of it away.

Most days for lunch I eat porridge with fruit and nuts. Today I added soy yoghurt, chia seeds, and fruit (pear and kiwi fruit).


Chia seeds are a strange food. I’ve never bought them before but I saw them at Newton Dee today and decided to give them a try. They come as small black or white, hard seeds which you soak in water for 10 minutes. After soaking they change to a jelly-like consistency and look rather like frog spawn.



They don’t taste of anything but they do add a nice crunch and texture to yoghurt and porridge.

Homemade hot cross buns

Homemade hot cross buns

Every year on Good Friday, for as long as I’ve known him, Ben makes hot cross buns. Having stuffed myself silly with about half-a-dozen of them now I can say with honesty that this year’s batch was particularly good, maybe even the best yet. They are vegan, without peel, and preservative-free. Perfect! Ben says he used vinegar and baking soda as a replacement for the egg.


Doors that don’t open and preservatives in food

At my work meetup in Madrid this past week I embarrassed myself one night just before dinner. There were eleven of us and we arrived at the restaurant at 8:29pm. The restaurant opened at 8:30pm and when I tried to open the door it was locked. We figured they would open it at any moment and waited outside. Minutes went by and other people joined our queue at the front of the restaurant waiting to go in. After about 10 minutes we started to get worried and Ceri asked me whether I’d tried pushing the door as well as pulling it. I was a bit indignant – as if I wouldn’t have tried that already? I replied, “Of course!” and then demonstrated this to her : I pushed and pulled the door with force and it opened. Evidently it had been unlocked the whole time. Either that or there was a time freeze during which aliens appeared and unlocked the door before vanishing into space.

When we visited the three wineries I was very irritating and asked each of them whether they put sulphur dioxide (a preservative) in their wines. All three wineries did and so I didn’t taste any of the half-dozen or so wines we were presented with except for two – one of which was 30 years old and I wanted to try it. I drank less than half a glass all day but still got a headache. The wineries all told me they have to put sulphur dioxide in the wines or they turn to vinegar. If that’s the case then how do all these other wine producers manage to produce wines without it?

Sulphur dioxide is a known allergen; however there’s no evidence that it causes headaches. I think part of the problem is that alcohol often causes headaches and it’s hard to isolate the cause and identify sulphur dioxide as the source of the problem. Correlation is not causation. But since this happens to me when I eat other foods that contain preservatives I prefer just to avoid them. Headaches are awful and I would prefer to avoid them if I can.

The best dietary advice I ever heard came from an anthropologist – Christina Warinna and this is what I try to live by:

Eat wholefoods, eat fresh foods, eat lots of species.

She talks a little bit about preservatives in her TED talk. She says preservatives all work in the same way: by inhibiting bacterial growth. What’s wrong with this? She says, “We have to keep in mind that our gastrointestinal system is also full of bacteria: good bacteria that do many good things for you. They digest your food, they regulate your immune system, they promote mucosal function. If you’re eating foods full of preservatives how does that affect your micro-biome, your good bacteria within you? The answer is we really don’t know and it’s something we’re only starting to investigate.” 


Climate change and the elephant in the room

Livestock farming produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transport sector. That’s all the planes, trains, trucks, buses, cars, and boats on the planet. Exactly how much the livestock farming sector produces varies depending on which study you look at. The most conservative estimate is from the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) which puts it at 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions while the highest figure is a paper by Goodland and Anhang which estimates it to be 51% of all emissions.

Some people argue the FAO underestimate the value while Goodland and Anhang overestimate it. Whatever the real answer is we’re not going to tackle global warming without addressing the high emissions from livestock farming the solution for which is a plant-based diet. This is something most people don’t seem to want to acknowledge and I feel a sense of despair after my trip to meat-loving Spain. Even for those who live in Spain and voluntarily want to reduce their emissions the choices are dismal. How much more warming do we have to endure before we acknowledge the elephant in the room?

Diversity at Heathrow airport and living in the UK

Diversity at Heathrow airport and living in the UK

I’m back in the UK and waiting at Heathrow airport where I’ve just stuffed myself full of food and am thinking of going back for more. I threw myself at Pret a Manger like a ravenous lion who hasn’t eaten properly for months. I love Pret. It’s one of my favourite eateries. Here’s what I got for £7.95 just now:

An entree of chia seeds in coconut yoghurt with mango and pomegranate seeds.


A main with rice, beetroot, falafel, beans, broccoli, basil, lemon, and mint, and pomegranate seeds.


I even got dessert: a delicious coconut chocolate thing.


Spending a week in Spain made me realise how much I take the wonderful food choices here for granted. I’m only at the airport and there’s so much choice. I always make my flight connections in Heathrow for this reason.

I love living in the UK. There’s so much diversity here and so many options and people are mostly very respectful of differences. The passport control officers themselves were all very diverse. One woman officer was wearing a hijab, there was a man with a sikh turban, and when it was my turn I got a young man with a distinctly Australian accent.

A plate of artichokes

A plate of artichokes

The food situation over the past few days has been diabolical. On Sunday the choice was omelette or meat balls, on Monday night it was steak or fish, and lunch today was steak or pork loin. They look at me with horror when I say I would like something without meat. It seems to take a while to process and they don’t really understand veganism. It’s quite simple really. I eat plants. All plants.

There are 20,000 species of edible plants in the world and when I told the restaurant today that I can eat any plants they brought me this:


It’s a plate of artichokes. Nothing else; just artichokes. Don’t get me wrong, I like artichokes but a whole plate of them is not particularly appealing.

At the restaurant last night they brought out several plates for everyone to share and every single one had meat on it. First there was ham, followed by prosciutto, then balls with some kind of meat in them, and then octopus. Why is it so hard to produce a plate without animals on it?

There are vegetarian restaurants here and we’ve been to two of them and they were great. But it would be nice if there was something I could eat at regular restaurants also.

Today we went on a winery tour which was lovely. We visited three wineries. Here are some photos.




This is the royal family summer house.








This next winery was quite interesting. They ferment white wine in huge century-old clay pots. I’ve never seen that before and apparently this is one of only a few wineries to do this.











A conversation overheard

Ben overheard this conversation between Daniel and Elizabeth. They were playing some game together on their devices which involved Elizabeth making a BBQ and inviting Daniel’s character.

Daniel: What will you cook?  Chicken? Pork?
Elizabeth: No.
Daniel: Beef:
Elizabeth: No.
Daniel: Mutton?
Elizabeth: No, none of those things.
Daniel (in a despairing tone): If it’s a vegetarian barbecue then I won’t come!
Elizabeth: It’s a vegetarian barbecue.

Photos from Madrid

Photos from Madrid

We wandered around El Retiro Park in Madrid yesterday. I took some photos on our walk there and in the park. I have been to Madrid before, some 12 or so years ago now, and I remember this park and the glasshouse. The glasshouse is beautiful but completely empty. I suspect if they put plants in there they would suffer from overheating since it gets quite hot and glasshouses are not really needed in this climate.






Last night we ate an Indian Restaurant and it was one of the best Indian meals I’ve ever had. I had a vegetable and lentil curry and it was so fresh and full of coriander which I love. Some of the others in our group complained after dinner of feeling a bit sick from the rich food but this never happens to me on a plant-based diet. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe it’s the saturated fat in animal products that give you that sick and bloated feeling after a big meal.

I always seek out Indian restaurants in places hostile to vegetarianism since India is around 30% vegetarian and there are always plenty of lentil and chick pea dishes for protein. Asian cuisine in general tends to be much better for vegetarians. In Spain they put ham in everything – ham for breakfast, ham for lunch, ham for dinner. I don’t know how people can stand that. What’s wrong with vegetables-only every once if a while or even just for a whole meal one day? A plant-based diet is better for our health, better for our environment, better for animals and apparently women are more likely to contact you on Tinder if you’re vegan. Why not eat meat once a week and plants the rest of the time or even plants for just one day a week and meat the rest of the time? Humans in rich countries eat too much meat. It seems like a no-brainer to me but then I’m told I’m eccentric so perhaps I’ll never understand how the rest of the world thinks.

On the bike tour we had the other day I spoke to our guide about Spain’s tradition of bullfighting. Like me, he does not approve of it but he is from Belgium and maybe not as invested in the Spanish culture as others who have grown up here. I believe the argument made by those in favour of bull fighting is that this is their culture and tradition. This is not a very good argument. In some cultures it’s tradition for men to beat their wives. Is it acceptable for them to say, “It is right for us to continue beating our wives because this is our culture and tradition”? No.


Temple of Debod

Temple of Debod

The Temple of Debod is an ancient Egyptian temple in one of the parks in Madrid. It was moved from Egypt to Madrid in 1968 to save it from the threat of construction of a dam. It was built in 200 BC. We went and took some photos there at sunset last night. It doesn’t look busy in my photo but it was packed with people. There are people everywhere in Madrid on a Friday night. You can barely walk. I don’t know how they stand it.


Madrid bike tour

Madrid bike tour

We went on a fantastic bike tour today of Casa de Campo Park which is the largest park in Madrid and absolutely enormous. We barely touched the surface of it. Bravo Bikes provided bikes and a very knowledgeable and friendly guide. I can’t fault them at all and it’s one of the best meetup activities I’ve had. Here are some pics.






Donncha took this next photo.


Some photos of our working space.




I’m having a very nice time here despite my reservations about coming to Madrid. It’s not as hot as I feared and I’ve been managing to find vegan food. I work with a lovely bunch of people and we have a fabulous mix of nationalities. We are Australian, Irish, Italian, Greek, American, Canadian, and French. The accommodation and work space is also very comfortable and I’ve had none of the dramas of my last work trip to Spain, thank goodness.

Camel toe knickers

I was sitting at Heathrow airport today watching people go by when I saw the most pronounced case of camel toe I have ever seen. I happened to be texting my sister at the time and I mentioned it to her and she told me that this is a new fashion. Apparently you can buy camel toe knickers now – http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-4376456/amp/Are-camel-toe-knickers-bizarre-underwear-trend.html

And people think I’m weird.

Making friends at school and cycling in the rain

Making friends at school and cycling in the rain

It’s tough when your kids don’t have any friends at school. That has been the case for Daniel until this year. He was put into the wrong year when we first arrived and was the youngest in his class both in age and maturity. The children were all nice to him but they didn’t view him as a peer. We pushed hard last year to have him repeat the year – there was resistance from the school because their philosophy is to teach to the individual rather than move individuals around to suit teachers. While I agree in principle, our concern was not so much with academic progress than with socialisation. Finally we got our way and he’s repeating primary 5 this year and made friends fairly quickly at the start of the school year.

A couple of weeks ago he got his very first birthday invitation for a party today at Laser Tag. We cycled there on Busby in the pouring rain. Here’s where car drivers get to look smug in their nice warm cars. I got absolutely soaked and discovered that my waterproof raincoat isn’t very waterproof.


I was hot when I got there, thanks to the cycle ride, but after an hour of sitting indoors in wet clothing I started shivering and developing hyperthermia.

After laser tag they had a go on the climbing wall. Daniel did pretty well.


When you cycle places it’s easier to stop and enjoy the surroundings which in this case was a marvellous display of daffodils on the banks of the River Dee.


They beach is always nice to look at except for the oil tankers on the horizon.